Affordable avalanche detector for Nepalese villagers

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Affordable avalanche detector for Nepalese villagers


Published on 5 May 2015

A USC academic who is developing an affordable avalanche detection device thinks the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal will create an even greater need for his invention.

Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering Dr Adrian McCallum said he was inspired to build the device after his own Himalayan tragedy 14 years ago when an avalanche killed three of his colleagues during an expedition to climb Mount Everest.

“My plan is to create an affordable early warning system for villagers living among the hazardous slopes using home-built radars,” he said. “It would not have helped during the recent earthquake but that will have caused even greater slope instability in the region, so avalanches are even more likely now.”

A specialist in remote area science and engineering, Dr McCallum is no stranger to ice and snow, having led research projects in the Arctic, Antarctica and the Himalayas. He is pictured, right, in the Himalayas in 2001.

He plans to do some initial testing of the early detection system with some USC Engineering students at Mt Beerwah in June.

“My intent is to prove the viability of using such a system to monitor the stability of dangerous slopes near villages in Nepal,” he said. “Ultimately I want to raise funds to run workshops to enable locals to build and operate their own radars to act as early warning for their villages.

“The beauty of this system, if it works, is that they can build the radar themselves for about $500 and have them permanently set up in these high alpine communities. It would empower the local villagers with the ability to monitor their own slopes for avalanches.”

Dr McCallum has applied to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise – an international program that supports inspiring projects that benefit humanity – for funding to travel to Nepal.

He said he was relieved to find out that his friends and colleagues based in Kathmandu survived the recent devastation.

“It is very hard for Australians to understand or appreciate the difficulties the Nepalese people will be facing,” he said. “It is such difficult terrain and they are poor with little access to machinery to help with the clean-up or rebuilding.”

— Jane Cameron

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